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February 2024

In addition to being a Northwest Artist Against Extinction, Kate Crump is a fishing guide and lodge owner in Alaska and Oregon.  Kate is devoted to building deep relationships, not only with rivers and people, but also with the fish and beings that rely on those healthy ecosystems.  In her continuous fight to protect wild places, Kate serves on the board of Pacific Rivers and is a member of the North Coast Citizens for Watershed Protection, promoting and protecting healthy watersheds. Her writing has been featured in the Fly Fish Journal, Trout Magazine, Patagonia Fly Fishing catalog, and the Salmon Steelhead Journal.


BRITT FREDA: Kate Crump, I wish you and I were wading in Alaska waters, fly rods in hand, and you were giving me tips on my cast. That would be my preferred way to talk through an interview with you! In that the fly fishing version isn’t in the cards, today, let's dive into this conversation about your profession, passions and art, in writing.

Can we start with profession, passion, and art?  Will you tell us about your work, your ongoing relationship with salmon, and how that informs your art practice?

Kate CrumpPhoto by Jeremy KoreskiKate Crump: I have been a fly fishing guide in Alaska since 2008 and have been guiding winter steelhead on the north coast of Oregon for many years as well. My husband and I started a small lodge business in Oregon in 2010 based upon wanting to truly share the wildness of the north coast with the guests we fished with in Alaska. We host four guests at a time and have a private chef artfully creating meals from locally purchased ingredients. This has created an extremely fulfilling experience for us and our guests, building relationships that run as deep as a river. In 2021, we bought a lodge in Alaska at our dream location and proceeded to completely remodel all the guest cabins and build a very hip main lodge. We opened The Lodge at 58* North in June 2022 and are getting geared up for our third season this summer. Our chef travels with us to Alaska and helped us build a greenhouse there to provide the freshest ingredients in a harsh climate.

I first came to fishing through Salmon. It was my experience on an Olympic National Park stream watching coho salmon return to their homewaters that lit something inside me. I instinctively knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life pursuing them, being where they are, seeing them up close and personal. At that time, I didn't know that I would ultimately find my life dedicated to helping others with their pursuit of salmon and steelhead.

I recently read about "eco-anxiety" and kind of eye-rolled at the drama of the term. But after fishing the other day I realized that every day I go out as an angler I see first hand the trouble our freshwater ecosystems are experiencing and the effects of those troubles upon salmon and steelhead who influence my life like a tide.  And so every day I think about how I can effect positive change and all the possibilities to make significant improvements. I often feel discouraged by the lack of connection people have to salmon these days and the lack of action from our legislators.

I really reconnected with art through a friend Peggy Ludington, who specializes in oil painting animals. She encouraged me to paint and using her technique felt very attainable. Of course, the first thing I painted was a fish. And then I kept painting fish. I started to dabble in birds as they are so interconnected with my daily experience on the water and while that has been challenging, it is very inspiring. It's easy to forget how affected birds are by watershed health. 

Most Northwest people are so disconnected from salmon these days they don't even realize how big they are or what they look like or that they change physically after entering their natal stream. These days, pursuing salmon requires a lot of faith and optimism. Reaching into the water and pulling a creature fresh from the ocean whether to eat or just to know it is there is a spiritual endeavor whether one acknowledges that or not. So creating art of salmon and steelhead is such a beautiful way for me to merge the conscious with the spiritual. 

BF: I’ve heard you say, while you love the long and busy spring and summer days in Alaska, you also pine for the quieter days of winter to be able to create more art. Does that feel like a true retelling? Do you want to talk about your cadence as an artist? 

K8: Spot on, I believe. I think the reason I built my life to spend half my year in Alaska and half my year on the north coast of Oregon is because I need that cadence of bright light and busy times and then the darkness and quiet. It is a larger view of what I need on a smaller note as well. Of all the years I have spent five months in Alaska, I have painted only one painting while in Alaska-of a fish of course (a char) and it came out very dark. Like I was calling for what I needed in order to create. Some quiet and darkness to allow my motivation and creativity some breathing room.

And while all of that is true, creating space for artwork is so challenging for me. Running the operation in Alaska and in Oregon really dominates my time. If I'm not on the water guiding, I am working on the business in some way.  I have been very focused the last couple years of trying to prioritize myself and that means my art.  It is a lot of effort.

BF: Here’s a big one. We’re all experiencing the effects of climate change. Is it fair to say you’re outside tracking weather, fish and animals, and environmental changes–all the time?  What are you seeing?  What gives you hope?  What do you wish more people knew about what you see, as an angler and a guide?

K8:  I absolutely track all those things as a guide and business owner. I think guides could really help the scientific community and it is a great opportunity for partnership and collaboration.  

In my world of salmon, steelhead and trout along the Pacific Rim, I am dealing with fish species that have become incredibly resilient due to its changing natural environmental conditions throughout the centuries. So it is inspiring, knowing resilience is part of their DNA sequence and we just need to give them a chance.

People are shocked to hear that in this era we have seen record numbers of sockeye salmon returns in Bristol Bay as the lake temperatures have risen just enough to encourage greater health due to effects of climate change. (Like in 2022 the run was 79 million-the largest on record, 81% over the twenty year average.) This huge run size has a systemic effect on the entire environment, more brown bears, and other wildlife. There are certainly other species that are declining at the same time but with tales of success comes immense hope. And I wish for people to hold that hope and turn it into action.

BF: It was great to include your vibrant, colorful salmon painting in the Honor, People, Salmon and Orca exhibit at Patagonia last year. You are a Patagonia fly fishing ambassador, right?  Patagonia is engaging in powerful advocacy for a healthy and sustainable planet, right now.  Do you want to talk about your relationship with Patagonia and the ways your ambassadorship has amplified your voice as an advocate, activist or artist?

K8: I was so honored to be a part of the exhibit last year. I honestly couldn't believe I was accepted! And I can't believe my art is still hanging at the Patagonia store in Seattle! I am a Patagonia Fly Fishing Ambassador. Also, quite the honor. Patagonia has led the way for a successful company to be thoughtfully managed with respect to the environment and people. Their advocacy is inspiring. My relationship with Patagonia has certainly amplified my voice as an advocate for our fisheries and even for women in fishing.  

BF: Anything else you want to share that’s currently on your mind?  

K8: Come join us in Alaska, I still have a few available spots left from June-October at The Lodge at 58* North!  

Also, a dream of mine is to host an artist week in Alaska and have an artist bring up guests to be inspired by the wilderness to create art, and that artist teach them techniques throughout the week.  I think this would help inspire more people to pay attention to the importance of salmon and create opportunities for more Bristol Bay inspired art.

BF: A big thank you, K8, for taking the time to share some of you with us!
IG @k8crump

Kate Crump From Dream to Hand to MemoryKate Crump: From Dream to Hand to Memory
2023, Acrylic, 18" x 36"
"Salmon dreams; dreaming of seeing one, catching one, even eating one and yet our real chance to interact with a salmon is through catching them. Upon release they become our memories, forever fueling our desire to see the unknown.”

—Kate Crump